Monday, November 8, 2010

Reason and evidence

Jack: Sbhe fpber naq frira lrnef ntb—oh, hello Edward!

Edward: Hello, Jack. What was that that you were saying?

Jack: What? Sbhe fpber naq frira lrnef ntb—I'm studying for my midterm tomorrow.

Edward: What a strange-sounding language! What is it?

Jack: ROT-13. I'm taking the class to satisfy my foreign language credit.

Edward: Oh, I see.

Jack:bhe sbersnguref

Edward: Well, I guess I should leave you be so that you can continue with your studying…

Jack: Okay, bye—wait, Edward!

Edward: Yes?

Jack: I've been meaning to tell you something.

Edward: In ROT-13? I'm sorry but I'm not at all fluent—

Jack: —No, no. It has nothing to do with ROT-13.

Edward: Avoiding one's study topic? I guess that's the point of cramming. What is it that you have to say?

Jack: What I have to say is that I think I've made important progress in figuring out how I should be living my life. As you've told me once or twice already, my previous ideas haven't always been so well thought out. But this time I sure I'm on the right path.

Edward: That's great to hear. What path are you on these days?

Jack: The path of reason and evidence. See, this is truly a path, a means, rather than an end in and of itself like those previous ideas of mine. Rather than jumping straight to a conclusion and being shown that the conclusion doesn't pass muster—once or twice—this time it's totally different. In my ROT-13 class—

Edward: I thought you said this had nothing to do with ROT-13.

Jack: A-ha! You got me there! But this is secondary to the main point.

Edward: Yes, yes, I was just joking. Please continue.

Jack: Sure. So, in my ROT-13 class, I met an interesting fellow who's majoring in a science of some sort, and he's taught me that what's important isn't the conclusion one reaches but the method one uses to reach conclusions.

Edward: And that method is reason and evidence?

Jack: Exactly! With reason and evidence, it's impossible to go wrong! Or at least it's really hard to go wrong. All I have to do is start with some premises based on evidence and then crank those premises through my machine of logical reasoning to conclude true statements. It's a beautiful system, and it doesn't even matter so much what the statements actually mean; as long as the premises match what is observed—evidence—then the conclusions—reason—are validated.

Edward: What if a premise turns out to be based on faulty evidence?

Jack: That's the best part! A premise can be chucked at any time and replaced with a new premise or set of premises or even nothing at all. The new resulting set of premises is re-cranked through the machine of logical reasoning to conclude new, possibly different true statements. Because the methodology is preserved, we simply take the new conclusions as the new truth and live our lives according to them.

Edward: I see. Isn't it a little bit awkward to have one's way of life disproved and changed because some new evidence turns up?

Jack: Sure, this may not be as convenient as doggedly staying the course, but such is the price one pays for living one's life according to principles that match what one actually observes in the world.

Edward: I see.

Jack: Great, you're already formulating your own premises!

Edward: Yes, um… So what have you concluded about living the good life? What true statements have you come up with so far?

Jack: Well, to answer your first question: not much. To answer your second question: not many. Remember it's the methodology that's most important. As for concluding specific statements, er, I'm still a little stuck in the premises stage. You see—

Edward: —I do—

Jack: —I haven't quite figured out the freewill issue using only evidence. But I'm sure once I figure that out all will fall neatly into place.

Edward: Hmm…

Jack: You don't think so?

Edward: Well, no—I mean, yes, er, maybe. It's just that I was thinking of a different question.

Jack: Another question? Sure, go ahead and ask. Since I haven't concluded anything yet, surely there's no way you're going to trap me this time!

Edward: Trap? Me, trap you? I only ask innocent questions!

Jack: The most dastardly traps of all are innocent questions.

Edward: Well, I suppose.

Jack: Go ahead and set your trap. Ask away!

Edward: Okay. I was thinking about this reason and evidence thing, and I was wondering: what would it be like to use reason and evidence alone?

Jack: It's like just as I told you. Why don't you try it? That didn't seem like a very difficult question…

Edward: That wasn't my real question, sorry. I was just setting up my real question.

Jack: Which is…?

Edward: I'm getting to it. Okay, so I was wondering: what would it be like to use reason and evidence alone? You're saying that you use reason and evidence alone and not reason and evidence and some other technique, too, right?

Jack: Right. Using anything more than reason and evidence would be unenlightened, indeed!

Edward: Indeed. So, if I were using reason and evidence alone—and nothing else—then it seems to me, being as how I'm using reason and evidence alone to justify my actions, that I should be able to use reason and evidence alone to justify using reason and evidence alone. And I was wondering: how would I use reason and evidence alone to justify using reason and evidence alone?

Jack: Um, well, I suppose… You could… Um…

[An awkward silence passes.]

Jack: Qnzzvg, Edward!


Rachel Means said...

I was hoping for a better ending expetive than Qnzzvg! ;-)

cmbrandenburg said...

Rachel—Vaqrrq. Zl ncbybtvrf.